day recently, Ronnita Whipple sat in a second-floor
conference room at Atlanta’s Savannah College of Art
and Design remembering the moment her dream of attending
the elite university came to her.
was heading God knows where with her friend and mentor
Katherine Hutto, who mentioned the school as a possible
place for her after graduation and, well, it stuck in
the back of Whipple’s mind.
don’t think she realized it resonated with me,"
she said. "From that moment on, it became my
reality, it seemed an improbable if not impossible
see, Whipple grew up in Macon’s Unionville
neighborhood, where the poverty of aspiration is as
common as the poverty of economics and where too often
children suffer from a chronic, debilitating lack of
hope and expectation.
is that by then she was pretty sure that at her core she
was an artist, a vision of herself she’d held onto
since the time when she was, oh, 10 or 11 and her church
pastor spoke these words: You’re going to be a famous
prophecy made sense. Teachers had been telling her that
were all saying it so I had no choice but to believe
it," she said.
saw it too but it wasn’t until Whipple’s sophomore
year that she started to pay attention.
that time Hutto, who’d known Nita as she likes to call
her almost since birth, got a peek inside the teen’s
room with its neon green and shocking pink walls laden
with inspirational quotes, the one bright spot in an
otherwise dilapidated dwelling the teen shared with her
guardian and great-grandmother, Lelia Wiley, and three
couldn’t believe her eyes. She was seeing for the
first time the artist others had seen.
a little girl, Whipple possessed the soul of an artist.
AP fine arts teacher, Sherrie Jamison, said as much and
once mused: "No matter how hard her life has been
she has ALWAYS found ways to make art."
she said, reminded her of a line from the movie, "Babette’s
Feast": "Throughout the world sounds one long
cry from the heart of the artist: Give me the chance to
do my very best."
so, Whipple knew attending such an elite school as SCAD
was a long shot. She didn’t have stellar grades. She
had no money and no hope of a scholarship.
yet people including Hutto and classmates at Macon’s
Central High kept talking about her attending college.
Maybe, she thought.
during her sophomore year of high school she started to
get serious about putting together the perfect
quiet the naysayers, she told them she was going to do
something big one day.
watch. It’ll be all over the news," she told
rolled on like it always does and by her senior year,
Whipple had nothing save an acceptance letter to SCAD
and the dream.
Ms. Hutto told me how expensive the school was, I
cried," she said. "I felt overwhelmed. How
would I afford something like this?"
just have to have faith. If things didn’t work out,
they agreed Whipple could attend Georgia Southwestern
and then transfer to SCAD.
was at the library looking for scholarships again one
day when she happened upon the annual Duct Tape Stuck at
Prom competition. Maybe, she thought. After recruiting a
male classmate to sport the requisite tux to match her
dress, she got busy, working around the clock to meet an
was December 2013 when she sat down to draw sketches.
She knew she wouldn’t be able to keep her jobs,
complete a portfolio and finish the pieces so she saved
up, $4,000 over three months, then quit.
stayed up until every morning, working on the
dress," she said. "At 7 a.m., I walked to
school and repeated the process until it was
was 400 hours later.
in June 2014, Whipple learned she’d placed second in
the competition. It wasn’t what she had hoped for but
along with the second-place finish she had a $5,000
scholarship: pennies, when put up against SCAD tuition.
was grateful but still far far away from realizing the
long bragged to friends she’d go to SCAD one day, that
her tuition would be paid in full. It would take a
miracle to pull it off now.
speaking, it didn’t seem possible, but to me it
was," she said. "I believed in my heart that
if I asked God for something and I had the will power,
it would happen."
news of her duct-tape win was aired on CNN, an Atlanta
resident, who asked to remain anonymous but has made a
career out of helping kids fulfill their dreams, saw the
story and tracked Whipple down.
just one meeting, he and his wife, along with a few
other benefactors, decided to pay Whipple’s way
through SCAD. On top of $240,000 tuition, room and
board, they gave her a car and introduced her to a
friend who became a kind of fairy godmother, teaching
Whipple table etiquette and taking her on shopping
were like angels sent just when I really needed the
support," she said. "There were no strings
attached. The only thing they asked was that I not get
any tattoos and piercings. I was blown away."
dream had come true.
now 23, would not let her benefactors or herself down.
Over the next four years, while pursing a degree in
fashion design, she would maintain a 3.2 GPA and garner
a string of impressive awards and recognition for her
designs. Zelma Redding, widow of Otis Redding, purchased
one of her paintings, a replica of her husband’s
recently, she created a pink paper-towel dress for
Georgia Pacific, helping to raise $77,000 toward the
Susan G. Komen breast cancer fight. She also was a
winner of the National Black Arts Festival’s Emerging
Talent Award. Ronnita’s design will be displayed in
the windows of Neiman Marcus.
as she prepares to graduate in May, she is working on a
hand-painted evening wear collection for a spring
yet, Ronnita Whipple finds herself at yet another
crossroads, unsure what she will do next, if there will
indeed be a place for her talent in the fashion
feels scary," she said. "I don’t know what’s
about to happen but my faith says, like before, it’ll
be more than what I can think or ask."